Following the South Tyne Trail, the sibling to the North Tyne Trail near Kielder, from Alston to Haltwhistle, involved three trains and a 9 mile ramble.
Allan had very kindly allowed himself to be coerced into dropping Linda and I off in Alston where we began our day – drinking coffee at The Crossing café. The South Tyne Trail actually starts near Garrigill, a few miles south of Alston, and this had been our original intent for a sunny Saturday. However, transport issues conspired against this idea so the inaugural section was put back in the “for another day” folder.
The café can be found at Alston station, the home of the South Tynedale Railway. The narrow gauge track follows the original standard gauge Alston to Haltwhistle track bed for 5 miles to Slaggyford with the South Tyne Trail signposted alongside. Taking the little train seemed a lovely way to start our journey although, with a moving speed of somewhere around walking pace, our carriage was little more than a collective sedan chair through some beautiful scenery.
The South Tyne, bearing a heavy load of rainwater, rushed north below us in the valley bottom as we set a similar pace along the rest of the disused railway. We met a few cyclists and walkers who also splashed their way through patches of standing water and went on to admire the view across a chameleon collection of trees on their own multicoloured journey into early autumn hues.
Halfway along our route, the nine stone carved arches of Lambley viaduct bridge the South Tyne. At 33m (108ft) high, it is a breath-taking manmade addition to the natural architecture of the wood clad valley sides. Its Grade 2 status is well deserved, and we walked with our heads in the clouds across its deck as the South Tyne carved an iridescent ink blue ribbon far below our feet.
We traded sky high for nearby when it came to lunch. The path runs close to the river in water meadows just north of the viaduct and this was the first time we were able to meet the South Tyne properly. Despite not being dam fed like its North Tyne sibling, the river was in a similar haste to reach the sea. It chattered unhappily through shallow rapids, white foam cresting tiny sapphire waves in snappy argument with the delaying rock beneath. The river rested in deeper channels where the water ran slow and pulled the cerulean sky into intense indigo conversation.
There were three of them and a family
A collection of mum, dad, offspring of various ages, granny and some dogs exploded past us near Featherstone Castle. They had arrived in three cars: a custard yellow Audi with a rooftop bike rack, a silver Audi coupe and a cream Fiat, each with personalised family number plates. All family members, save granny and the dogs, were wearing Dubarry boots. We wondered why granny preferred walking boots.
There were three of them and some photos
A fisherman stood still in the middle of the river, his outline dark against the sun silvered reflections and we watched the patient methodical cast of line as he sought salmon heading upstream to spawn. We found two of his colleagues standing at Featherstone Bridge, fishing tackle in hand.
“Have you finished or are you just starting?” I asked.
“Oh, we’ve finished,” one of the gentlemen replied. He was sitting on the bridge wall.
“Any success?” I queried
“Yes,” he replied, nodding towards his friend, “he’s done well today”
Friend looked pleased with himself and there was a slight pause as he automatically drew himself up to his full height.
“I caught two,” he said, “would you like to see?”
There was no bag or keep net in sight, so I wasn’t quite sure exactly how he was going to display his catch until I noticed him reach into his pocket. He pulled out his phone and tapped on a photo.
“That’s a cock fish, see how the jaw line is very different and the colour too?”
We nodded. I’d never seen a male fish with the jaw so extended or the vivid tartan-like colouration of the scales. It was certainly unrecognisable from the silver torpedoes I was familiar with at the fishmongers.
He then produced another picture, this time of a large hen salmon. She was more recognisable. Each fish weighed around 15 lbs.
“We put them back,” Friend said as we looked up.
“The hen was heavy with eggs,” Wall Man explained, “and both fish are necessary to ensure the next batch of salmon are born” At that point a Range Rover drew up, their lift home. We continued on our way.
There were three of them and some stories
The route passes three substantial buildings; the remains of a prisoner of war camp and two castles. Bellister castle, near Haltwhistle, is a castellated house built in 1699 on the original 13th century motte and bailey and is looked after by the National Trust. There is an unpleasant tale told of a musician and some hounds….
Built between the 14th and 19th centuries, Featherstone Castle too has a particular gory tale of a wedding gone awry and a subsequent annual haunting involving horses and a bridal party. It is no surprise that the Americans who were billeted at the training camp near the castle in the early 1940s called it Death Valley, but this was mainly due to its isolated position.
However, as a PoW camp from 1945-1948, it became one of the most highly regarded rehabilitation centres of German officers in the country, referred to as the “camp of confidence” or the “University of the Tyne”.
For an ugly building, the PoW camp provides the most beautiful of tales:
“The roles of Captain Sulzbach, the camp interpreter from 1946, was important in the success of the camp to rehabilitate prisoners. He was a Jewish refugee from Germany who had been decorated by the German Emperor in World War I and went on to be awarded the OBE by King George VI for ‘dedicating himself to making this camp a seed bed of British-German reconciliation’. There were 3 orchestras and 2 theatres in the camp and instruction in all modern and classical Languages. Remains of the camp survive today as foundations and a scattering of brick buildings in the parkland and visitors come regularly from Germany to maintain the spirit of friendship.”
We arrived at Haltwhistle just in time to catch our second train of the day to Carlisle which arrived in Carlisle just in time to board the third train, this time to Appleby.
There were three of them and teddy
Teddy, clad in a burgundy top, was sat, propped up against a camera case on the table between them, looking through the window at the steadily changing view. Behind the little stuffed bear was the detritus of train travel; coffee cups and food wrappers, phones and bags, all belonging to the three silver grey ladies who sat with him. We wondered what teddy thought of it all.
Which just goes to show that not all stories have a beginning, middle and an end either.